The World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band

Stepping into Nye’s Polonaise in Northeast Minneapolis on a Friday night is like stepping back in time. That’s partly due to the decor (dark, windowless, and untouched in forty years), the employees and regulars (many of whom also haven’t changed in that time), and the presence of Ruth Adams and the World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band. Every week, the band (led by Ruth on accordion) leads a packed house through standards like “The Barking Dog Polka”, “Too Fat Polka”, and “In Heaven There Is No Beer.”

First-time director Sonya Tormoen has made an endearing short documentary of the group, simply titled The World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band. Filmed in 2003, it captures the warm relationship between the band members: the septuagenarian founder Ruth, trumpeter Joe Hayden (called “The Kid” despite being in his 60s), and 88-year-old drummer Al Ophus who, despite his troubles keeping a steady beat, charms patrons and boasts of kissing “fifteen girls a night” (Al passed away a few months after filming wrapped).

The documentary is currently making the film festival rounds — including the Chicago International REEL Shorts Festival this weekend — and won the award for Best Documentary Short at the Fargo Film Festival in March. Check out a review in the Beachwood Reporter or watch the trailer below. If you like what you can see and hear (and can’t wait for it to come to your town), you can order a DVD directly from the filmmakers.

Cafe Accordion Orchestra’s Cinema

We’re big fans of Dan “Daddy Squeeze” Newton’s Cafe Accordion Orchestra, a Minneapolis-based band that (as their name suggests) evokes the sounds of French cafe music, but with shades of Latin, swing, and gypsy mixed in as well. They’ve just put out their 6th album, Cinema — a collection of songs featured in films from the 1920’s through today, including tunes from The Third Man, Singin’ in the Rain, and Kill Bill Volume 2.

If you’re in the Minneapolis area, you can catch the Cafe Accordion Orchestra performing music from their new album live tomorrow night at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul (home of the Prairie Home Companion). Otherwise, check out sample clips (like the one below) on their site.

Little Miss DeVotchKa

This week, Anna and I went to see Little Miss Sunshine and as soon as the movie started I recognized the sound of one of my new favorite bands, DeVotchKa. It turns out DeVotchKa teamed with composer Mychael Danna to do most of the film’s soundtrack and their lush, dreamy sound adds the perfect backdrop to an already charming movie.

Devotchka is a Denver-based quartet with a smart, unique sound that crosses borders. Sometimes billed as Eastern European indie rock, the band blends gypsy, folk, mariachi, and rock influences effortlessly. No instrument is off limits, either: violin, sousaphone, trumpet, double bass, theramin, bouzouki, and, of course, the accordion (played by Tom Hagerman) all take turns on center stage. Meanwhile, frontman Nick Urata’s haunting voice soars above it all.

Their latest EP, Curse Your Little Heart is an eclectic mix of covers ranging from Frank Sinatra (“Something Stupid”) to Siouxsie and the Banshees (“The Last Beat of My Heart”). The Denver-based band is currently on a West Coast tour and are playing in Seattle tonight and San Francisco and Los Angeles next week. Their live show sounds like a blast, so catch them if you can.

Polka Documentary: It’s Happiness

What is polka? According to the dozens of people interviewed for an upcoming polka music documentary, the answer is easy: It’s Happiness. That’s the title of the film that Craig DiBiase and Timm Gable have been working on for the past year, which has taken them all over the country to meet musicians, dancers, and enthusiasts who just can’t get enough of polka. According to DiBiase, the director:

“I wanted to make a film that informed mainstream America what polka is really about; the family atmosphere, one’s heritage and the amount of fun at these festivals, but at the same time still please the polka community with musical performances from their favorite bands. The main point of the film is to show the eccentric personalities of the polka world and prove there’s a younger generation out there polka dancing.”

The film grew out of a conversation with John Pinter, president of the Wisconsin Polka Boosters, after he’d seen the duo’s work on a Pabst Blue Ribbon commercial incorporating polka dancers. The filmmakers showed the trailer at Pulaski Polka Days last week (after filming there last year) and are busy entering film festivals and looking for a distributor. Until “It’s Happiness” arrives at your local multiplex, you can watch the trailer on the official site:

Dick Contino on Chicago TV

Watch out ladies, Dick Contino, the “world’s most handsome accordion player,” is on the prowl. Contino performed in Chicago last night and the local CBS affiliate did a segment on him titled “Accordion-Playing Hunk Pushes The Right Buttons”. Seriously. Watch the accompanying video and listen to Dick talk about being an original “American Idol” and how Colonel Tom Parker used his moves to coach Elvis.

In related Dick Contino news, Anna and I recently received a VHS copy of his movie, “Daddy-O”, as a wedding gift. That’s right — the same film that was once featured, and mocked mercilessly, on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Needless to say, as soon as we can manage to sit through the whole thing, we’ll post our review here.

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